WorldGerman justice sentences former Syrian colonel to life imprisonment...

German justice sentences former Syrian colonel to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity

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A former colonel of the Syrian intelligence services was sentenced on Thursday in Germany to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, the second verdict in this unprecedented trial of the abuses committed by the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The High Regional Court of Koblenz, west of Germany, found Anwar Raslan, 58, guilty of the deaths of at least 27 prisoners and the torture of thousands of prisoners in a secret detention center in Damascus between 2011 and 2012.

It is the second conviction that has been pronounced in this historic trial, after the one issued in February 2021 against a Syrian intelligence agent of a lower rank than Raslan.

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The senior military official was accused of the murder of 58 people and the torture of 4,000 in the Al Khatib detention center, also called “branch 251”. However, not all of them could be demonstrated in the process.

“This is really historic,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Kenneth Roth told reporters in Geneva after the verdict.

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At least a dozen victims attended the verdict. Syrian families gathered early in front of the court, with posters with the message “Where are they?”, In reference to their relatives who disappeared in Syrian detention centers.

Almost 11 years after the start of the popular uprising in Syria, this process, which was divided into two parts, was the first time that a court examined the crimes imputed to the Syrian regime.

Previously, the same court had sentenced Eyad Al Gharib, a former member of these intelligence services, to four and a half years in prison.

In that ruling, the court recognized “an extensive and systematic attack against the civilian population” perpetrated by the Assad regime beginning in March 2011, when Syrians took to the streets to demand democracy.

Anwar Raslan, who headed the investigations service of the “branch 251” in the tentacular Syrian security apparatus, remained silent during this lengthy process, which began on April 23, 2020.

On Thursday, the former colonel followed the verdict, translated into Arabic, without apparent emotion, an AFP journalist confirmed.

In May 2020, however, his lawyers read a written statement in which the former official denied any alleged involvement with the events.

The defendant maintained this version in a statement read by his interpreter in January, before the Court withdrew to deliberate.

– Victims and deserters –

For these processes, Germany applies the legal principle of universal jurisdiction that allows a State to try the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, regardless of their nationality or the place where they were committed.

More than 80 people testified at the trial, including 12 deserters. The victims exposed the mistreatment they suffered, such as electric shocks, blows with cables, etc.

Some, however, refused to appear or did so with their faces covered or wearing a wig for fear of reprisals against their relatives still in Syria.

And for the first time, photographs of “César”, a former military photographer, were presented in court, who leaked, endangering his life, more than 50,000 images showing thousands of detainees doomed to death.

“I hope we have been able to give a voice to those who do not have it” in Syria, Wasim Mukdad, a civil party in the process, told AFP.

“I want justice to be done, [pero no busco] revenge or retaliation, “he added.

Anwar Raslan, in provisional detention for three years, has never hidden his past since he found refuge in Berlin with his family in 2014. His defenders constantly claim that he himself deserted in 2012 and tried to care for inmates.

The conflict in Syria it has caused nearly 500,000 deaths and forced 6.6 million people to flee the country.

Next week another trial opens in Germany, in Frankfurt, on a former doctor in a military prison in Homs accused of torturing inmates.

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